Nolan receives alum award for purpose, devotion and leadership

June 24th, 2016 | SMWC

“The people love her; they really do,” reads one of the nomination letters that contributed to Coachella, Calif., resident, Carol Nolan, Sister of Providence (SP) and 1954 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC), receiving one of the College’s most prestigious alumni awards, the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Award.

Nolan received the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Award for possessing similar purpose, devotion, community vitality and leadership as exhibited by the College’s foundress.

“I am honored. I can hardly believe it,” Nolan said. “I am just overwhelmed. Words can hardly express what the Sisters of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College mean to me. This relationship has just been irreplaceable in my life.”

Sister Carol has a long history with the Sisters of Providence dating back to 1878 when the Sisters of Providence visited her hometown of Galesburg, Ill. Her grandfather was one of the first students taught by the SPs and her great aunt became a Sister of Providence. Following in their great aunt’s footsteps, all three Nolan sisters, Carol, Nancy and Lucy, became Sisters of Providence.

In the fall of 1969, Sister Carol joined the faculty at The Woods to teach music. For 29 years, she instilled in her students a love for learning, music and the College. During her last 10 years at the College, she also taught basic German. Upon her retirement in 1998, she moved to Taiwan where she taught English for three years and studied Spanish. 


President Dottie King, Ph.D., and Sister Carol Nolan '54

When she became aware of the plight of Spanish-speaking immigrants in southeastern California, not far from the Mexican border, she recognized that this was a place where she could bring the hope of God’s love and mercy to people who were extremely poor, isolated and oppressed. In 2002, she founded Providence in the Desert to bring English as a Second Language classes to the Mexican immigrants working in the fields and factories of California’s Coachella Valley. The ministry works to teach English as a new language to adults in private homes, neighborhood schools and community centers. She also shares her love of music by offering music and violin lessons for children.

Although she is past retirement, she enthusiastically serves as the ministry’s director and provides resources to help people live better lives by meeting their basic needs. She advocates for better housing, finds resources for survivors of domestic abuse, mourns with the community at funerals and celebrates with them at weddings. She leads the enterprise by recruiting and supervising teachers, working to attract donors, and writing grants – with that same vision and love along with faith, perseverance, persuasiveness and zeal.

The Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Award is named for SMWC’s foundress, a role model for today's women. It is in her honor, and in recognition of the value-based educational legacy she established at SMWC, that the National Alumni Association offers the award. Recipients of this award use her gifts to excel at what she does and thus reflect God's love and abundant grace in the world. In addition, recipients possess similar purpose, devotion, community vitality and leadership as exhibited by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.